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Posts tagged ‘self-organized teams’

Adapting your leadership style to the maturity level of your self-organizing team

Unless they are adopting Agile for the wrong reasons, people managers find themselves facing an interesting decision – “Am I willing to let go some control in order to take advantage of the benefits associated with Agile?”.

Being human, it is difficult not to resist change unless we know what to expect from the future and clearly understand the implications for us. Once the future becomes clearer, we can start to appreciate the need to change. That’s just the beginning… Change for what?

In his book, Jurgen Appelo presents various levels of decision making and manager involvement in the context of Agile adoption. I took the liberty to build a matrix (see below) to match Jurgen’s various leadership styles to the 7 stances of a self-organized team [a pdf version of this matrix is available for download].

(1) Taken from: Agile self-organized teams – is the team self-organized or not?

(2) Taken from: Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders

The matrix presents which leadership style the manager should be using based on the level of maturity of your team. Hope you will find it useful!

Cracking the Code for Standout Performance (part II)

image by shadaringtonAs Agile team coaches or organizational coaches, we aim to increase the teams’ performance in an attempt to deliver better results. We improve quality, help the team work more efficiently, and have fun while delivering increased business value. Interestingly, many of the observations presented in Great Business Teams: Cracking the Code for Standout Performance (this is the second part of the book review) are in line with the Agile values and principles. Here are some of the keys points to remember:

THE LEADERS

The leaders have an important role in developing high performance teams. Their actions and behaviors will be closely observed and people will modify their own behaviors based on those of their leaders. Guttman highlights some of the leader imperatives to achieve high performance.

Develop and drive the horizontal vision

An horizontal organization means moving to an organizaton in which everyone operates according to a clearly defined set of decision-making protocols, where people understand what they are accountable for and then own the results.

For an organization to raise its level of performance every team, on every level, must be a great team. That is to say, it must be aligned in five key areas:

  1. business strategy
  2. business deliverables coming from the strategy
  3. roles and responsibilities at individual and business unit or functional levels
  4. protocols, or ground rules, for decision making and conflict resolution (see a recent post on this topic)
  5. business/interpersonal relationships and interdependencies

Create the right mindset

  • Being candid from “wary, closed with hidden agendas” to “candid, open, relaxed, easy to speak your mind” – from “no tolerance for confrontation, conflicts suppressed” to “tensions surfaced, confronted, and resolved”
  • Accentuating accountability: putting equal emphasis on cross functional, peer-to-peer accountability, as well as peer-to-leader acountability.

Provide the right skills

Such as influencing, active listening, assertion, giving and receiving feedback, conflict management, decision making and leadership.

Keep the game and guard the rules

Everyone is clear about and committed to the business strategy and the operational goals that flow from it; undertsands his or her roles and responsibilities, and adheres to agreed-upon protocols, or ground rules for decisions making and for interpersonal behavior, especially those relating to conflict management.

Here’s how great teams make decisions:

  • Identify the decisions that need to be made
  • Identify decision subteams
  • Assign accountability
  • Set objectives and timelines
  • Select the decision making mode
  • Identify information sources
  • Determine the shelf life of the decision

Raise the bar

Keep challenging the status quo, revisit the targets and get the team involved in the process.

Be player centered

Leadership is in large part about power – about how it is exercised, shared, delegated, and used. High performance leaders seek to leverage power, not monopolize – to put it to use to drive up their team’s or organization’s performance. Putting the power in the hands of the teams members provides the right conditions to deliver maximum payoffs.

THE PLAYERS

The road to a great team begins with two nuclear elements of team reality: the leader and the team members. Consequently, team members must show four very obvious characteristics.

Think like a director

Keep their eye on overarching goals and the need to stay on top of their competition.

Put team first, function second

They are team members first and functional representatives second.

Embrace accountability

Slowly move from an individual accountability for their own results toward accountability toward the success of the entire organization.

Become comfortable with discomfort

People need to be or become comfortable with the changes required of them and their leader.

Building an outstanding team requires time and energy and is achievable once people agree to work together and pull in the same direction.

Expected behaviors of a self-organized team

Picture by Creative DonkeyFollowing a recent post on the topic of self-organization, I’m offering a few examples of how people react / should react when a team is self-organized.

 

Not self-organized Self-organized
  • Waits to be told what to do
  • Figures out what needs to be done
  • Is a victim of circumstances
  • Is responsible for his actions
  • Gossips about the motives
  • Seeks information to understand
  • Whines about the constraints
  • Attempts to operate within the constraints
  • Complains about his colleagues’ performance
  • Holds his colleagues accountable
  • Waits for rules to be defined
  • Defines the rules of operations
  • Reactive
  • Proactive

What other behaviours have you noticed?

Self-organization and independence aren’t the same thing

Picture by Frédéric EsplandiuAgile relies and promotes the concept of self-organized teams but the concept is still misunderstood – except maybe for Jurgen who explains it very well in his book.

Even within Pyxis where we push the concept of self-organization to the entire organization, people often mistake independence and self-organization.

Here’s an attempt at distinguishing the two perspectives.

Independence is a condition of a nation, country, or state in which its residents and population, or some portion thereof, exercise self-government, and usually sovereignty, over its territory. – wikipedia

Independence is strongly tied to self-governance which is defined as:

(…) an abstract concept that refers to several scales of organization. (…) It can be used to describe a people or group being able to exercise all of the necessary functions of power without intervention from any authority which they cannot themselves alter. – wikipedia

On the other hand, self-organization is defined as:

the process where a structure or pattern appears in a system without a central authority or external element imposing it through planning. This globally coherent pattern appears from the local interaction of the elements that make up the system, thus the organization is achieved in a way that is parallel (all the elements act at the same time) and distributed (no element is a coordinator). – wikipedia

Although in both cases, no authority interferes with the organization of the people, self-organization emerges when there is no planning of how people will work together. In addition, the notion of imposed constraints appears when discussing self-organization.

As such, while independence could mean “We can do what we want, how and when we want”, self-organization means “We are free to operate how we wish within the defined constraints in order to achieve the established objectives”.

As I recently described, immature self-organized teams are often selfish and irresponsible:

Team members are happy to take advantage of being self-organized but only as long as it benefits them and that there are no increased responsibilities. Once a situation negatively impacts them (while benefiting the team), they aren’t willing to cooperate and when they are asked to take accountability for something, they shy away from the responsibility. In a nutshell, these individuals want the best of both worlds. To successfully transition to self-organization, it is critical to explain that they will need to make a decision and pick self-organization with responsibility or freedom outside the self-organized team.

Consequently, true self-organization means that people take full accountability for their actions and do what ever it takes to get organized as a group in order to operate within the imposed constraints.

Once presented with self-organization, people and teams quickly assume that they now fully control their destiny – which is incorrect. The additional detail that needs to be added is “within the imposed constraints” which means resources are limited and an objective has been established. So unless you are in control of the resources or have officially been delegated authority for the resources, you have the option of self-organizing, not becoming independent.

Cracking the Code for Standout Performance – Applying the approach to Agile Teams

I just finished reading Great Business Teams: Cracking the Code for Standout Performance.

In Great Business Teams, renowned business consultant Howard M. Guttman takes you inside some of the world’s most successful corporations—Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Mars Incorporated, and L’Oréal, to name a few—to discover how a powerful new high-performance horizontal model has changed the way leaders lead, team members function, challenges are met, and decisions are made. He also reveals how and why the organizations that have implemented this innovative team structure have become great companies, able to ride the crosscurrents during lean times and truly soar when opportunities arise.

As Agile team coaches or organizational coaches, we aim to increase the teams’ performance in an attempt to deliver better results. We improve quality, help the team work more efficiently, and have fun while delivering increased business value. Interestingly, many of the observations presented in Great Business Teams: Cracking the Code for Standout Performance are in line with the Agile values and principles. Here are some of the keys points to remember:

1. Great Business Teams are Led by High-Performance Leaders who:

  • Create a “burning platform” for fundamental change;
  • Are visionaries and architects;
  • Know they cannot do it alone;
  • Build authentic relationships;
  • Model the behaviors they expect from their team;
  • Redefine the fundamentals of leadership.

Isn’t this what we would expect of the Product Owner in Scrum?

Interestingly, the author positions the process by wish the leader achieves these objectives by asking tough questions such as:

  • What is the business strategy and how committed are we to achieving it?
  • What key operational goals flow from the strategy and how do we make sure these goals drive day-to-day decision making?
  • Are we clear on roles and accountabilities?
  • What protocols or ground rules will we play by as a team?
  • Will our business relationships and interdependencies be built on candor and transparency?

Hence, the support of an external coach is useful and can help the leader ask powerful questions.

2. Members of Great Business Teams are Us-Directed Leaders

Members of great business teams think of themselves as accountable not only for their own performance but for that of their colleagues. Similar to the concept of self-organized teams, great business teams typically take accountability to achieve their objectives.

On high-performing teams, accountability goes well beyond the individuals recognition that he or she is part of the problem. It even goes beyond holding peers on a team accountable for performance. “Us” accountability includes holding the team leader accountable as well.

3. Great Business Teams Play by Protocols

Once a leader with the right skills is in place and supported by a self-organized team, the group needs to agree on the rules they will play by. Obviously, the more structured its way of working together, the less likelihood of misunderstanding, conflict or costly delays and bottlenecks the team will encounter.

One important set of protocols related to decision making.

Straight-up rules such as “no triangulations or enlistment of third party”, “resolve it or let it go”, “don’t accuse in absentia”, and “no hand from the grave or second guessing decisions” can eliminate much of the unresolved conflict that paralyzes teams and keeps them from moving to a higher level of performance.

4. Great Business Continually Raise The Performance Bar

No matter how much it achieves, great business teams are never satisfied, they implement self-monitoring, self-evaluation, continuous improvement, and raise the bar. The continuous improvement process helps a highly performing team to keep improving its performance and deliver impressive results.

5. Great Business Teams Have A Supportive Performance Management System

Having the right individuals in the right roles and establishing clear rules of engagement are not sufficient. The performance monitoring systems have to be inline with the expected behaviors.

  • Team and individual goals have to be crystal clear;
  • The necessary technical and interpersonal skills have to be provided;
  • Performance has to be monitored;
  • And feedback has to be timely an well thought out.

The book wasn’t written for an Agile audience but after reading it, it seems to me that applying the Agile principles would come close to cracking the code for standout performance.

Agile self-organized teams – is the team self-organized or not?

Image by Cyndie@smilebig!Where ever we read about self-organized teams, it often seems to be a binary thing – either the team is self-organized or it isn’t.

When people suggest that the team should become self-organized, the suggested process is presented as fairly easy and straight forward.

If you are amongst the people who believe these previous two statements, I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news. In exchange, I will offer you a free reality check. Team self-organization is neither binary nor straight forward – self-organization is an evolutionary process that takes time.

We have been helping customers implement self-organizations for years and we have been pushing the limits within our organization. Based on that experience, I am sharing 7 levels of self-organized teams.

  1. No opinion: Team members follow the direction of their manager. Not to be confused with Zombies or Living-Deads, these individuals are neither happy nor upset about being directed in their tasks – things are the way they are, period. These team members do not pay much attention to the organizational structure or who the actual leader is. They are strictly interested in “doing their job”. Although they may express an opinion with regards to the current structure, they don’t necessarily believe that self-organization is a better alternative. If you are moving towards self-organization, you shouldn’t spend much time convincing these people since they will gladly follow the official structure.
  2. Status quo: Team members have benefited from the current structure in the past and wish to preserve it. They are un-likely to want to change to any other team structure (including self-organization) until they clearly see the benefits of transitioning. To move towards self-organization, you will need to spend time demonstrating what the new structure will bring them specifically and gaining their trust so they are willing to experiment with what you are proposing.
  3. Selfish and irresponsible: Team members are happy to take advantage of being self-organized but only as long as it benefits them and that there are no increased responsibilities. Once a situation negatively impacts them (while benefiting the team), they aren’t willing to cooperate and when they are asked to take accountability for something, they shy away from the responsibility. In a nutshell, these individuals want the best of both worlds. To successfully transition to self-organization, it is critical to explain that they will need to make a decision and pick self-organization with responsibility or freedom outside the self-organized team.
  4. Interested and learning: Team members are very interested in being self-organized but aren’t familiar with the changes required for them to become autonomous. They are ready and willing to learn and fully embrace the proposed structure. These are key people in a transformation, they are the ones who will pull the others forward as long as you take the time to explain what they need to do.
  5. Self-organized: Team members are fully accountable and play by the rules of the team. They recognize their strengths and weaknesses and work on improving the organization of the team in order to become fully autonomous and self-supported. They deliver great results and need minimum involvement to remain in their current state. This is where you want your teams to be.
  6. Leading a self-organized team: Although the team is self-organized, leadership is always required. These individuals will willingly take responsibility to organize the existing teams (they are team members and not managers) or the new teams you are hoping to transition to the new model. In a transition, you will want to work with these individuals to spread the new model and increase the number of self-organized teams.
  7. Independent: Team members are too much self-organized. As a consequence, they no longer wish to be part of the organization and wish to go on their own. Although rare, in the event that self-organization transforms into full-autonomy, it may be necessary to break down the team and use some of the team members to help lead other self-organized teams.

The road to self-organization is long but very rewarding. Each organization needs to determine how far they are willing to push the model and how fast they wish to move.

You may also be interested in this post: I don’t believe in self-organized teams…

Real-life laboratory for human experiments – The case of an Agile organization

Our organization is well known in Canada, France, and other French speaking countries around the world as a leader with the Agile approaches. We are one of the few organizations in North America with over 20 full-time agile coaches (employees).  For most part, our governance model relies on self-organization, the absence of hierarchy, and transparency in our decisions. This is what is well known from customers who have worked with Pyxis and potential employees who wish to join the organization, but what is much-less known is how Pyxis is a real-life laboratory for management, organizational behaviours, and team dynamics.

Most of the people who come in contact with people at Pyxis or who have worked with us will agree that the organization is different and throughout this year, I will share some of the inner working of our organization.

Pyxis helps software development companies to become places where results, quality of life, and fun coexist sustainably by being first and foremost an example of what it proposes to its clients and by coaching them.

We help our customers transition to Agile because we know it works – not because it is written in books but because we have been living the Agile way for 10 years now.

As the first post on the inner working of our Agile organization, I will explain the root cause of this difference. More posts will follow on self-organization, agile management, governance models, and growing a profitable organization by leveraging people’s inner motivation (remember autonomy, mastery and purpose?).

The fundamental reasons why Pyxis is different

After observing the organization from the inside for over two years, I have had the opportunity to appreciate that we are fortunate (and one of very few organizations) to have a real-life laboratory for human experiments – no, not the kind usually reserved to white rats. Our structure allows us to experiments with governance models (the way people are managed) and observe first hand the organizational behaviors that arise and the impact on team dynamics. We pride ourselves as being an incubator for highly performing teams and as such, we often experiment new concepts within our organization before trying them out on our clients – which is not often the case in consulting, but I digress…

The first reason behind our uniqueness is the philosophy of the founder. François sees the world differently from most people and although he has an opinion on many topics, his real contribution is that Pyxis is not a profit-maximizing organization. Like every organization, Pyxis wishes to generate a yearly profit but that is not the reason why Pyxis was originally created. Pyxis was born with a purpose to improve how software development is made and more importantly to improve the quality of life of people within those organizations.

This is critical to understand the organization because it leaves rooms for experiments (making mistakes is a critical part of learning), for employee satisfaction (people truly enjoy working at Pyxis), and deliver great results (highly motivated employees deliver better results).

There are other reasons why the organization is different but in my opinion, this one is fundamental.

What is the job of the president in a self-organized company?

Picture by wolfpixSince being appointed president of Pyxis Technologies a few weeks ago, I have been wondering what it means to be “the president” of an organization with a non-traditional governance model. Wanting to be successful in my new role, it is important for me to figure out what is expected of me – hence the questions about the meaning and purpose of my job - and as if the universe wanted to ensure I would answer these questions, Raphaël prompted me to describe what the new role meant for me, during a recent visit to our Paris office.
Since our organization heavily relies on autonomy and self-organization, the new role made me feel like a manager within an Agile organization. So here’s what I came up with (so far):
  • Leading the growth of the organization: working with team members and the leaders of the various communities in establishing their vision and their objectives and supporting them in achieving the targeted growth by providing an external perspective and/or some experience and skills.
  • Raising the performance bar: most people agree with setting goals and my role is to ensure that people set challenging goals for themselves and their community. Achieving a simple goal might be easy but it doesn’t make people grow, it doesn’t take them outside their comfort zone. My role is to get people to step outside their comfort zone.
  • Providing the means for people and communities to grow: wanting people to step outside their comfort zone without providing support for them to succeed would not only be unfair and unreasonable, it simply makes no sense.
  • Ensuring people operate with integrity and holding them accountable: integrity is a simple concept for me, it means to “say what you do and do what you say”. Consequently, I am taking responsibility (until the community members do so themselves) to hold people accountable for their commitments in order to make sure they operate with integrity. Imagine how powerful an organization can be if people operate with high integrity!
  • Making sure each group has defined clear protocols and plays by their rules: I personally don’t feel the need to control what people and communities are doing but I need to make sure each group has defined clear rules so the team members understand what is allowed and what isn’t. There is nothing worst than erratic rules and behaviors for people to be un-successful at what they do.
  • Committing to making people successful: it is much easier to get rid of people when they don’t meet certain expectations than it is to work with them at closing the gap. I am not saying that nobody will ever be asked to leave the organization (there are legal reasons why we might want to do so) but in the case of lower-than-expected performance level, I am committing to truly work with people so they can succeed.
  • Coaching people: it is the team members and the community leaders who are part of the day-to-day action. As a coach, my role is to maintain enough distance to properly observe the team’s performance in order to ask powerful questions that will enable the team to find alternate ways to reach their objectives faster and more efficiently.
  • Adapting my leadership style: people and communities are at different level of maturity and based on the maturity of the group, I will adapt my leadership style to provide the best level of support for their performance.

As I was defining for myself what role I should be playing, I started reading over the week-end Great Business Teams: Cracking the Code for Standout Performance.

Leaders exercise a kind of gravitational pull on their team. Their behavior sets the performance “should be” for others - Great Business Teams: Cracking the Code for Standout Performance.

The books describes the following behaviors which are important for me:

I am pretty sure I will be adding to this list as weeks go by but it seems to be a good start. Needless to say, I am not kidding myself thinking that I will have a perfect score on all these fronts but making my job description public and asking my colleagues to hold me accountable is a challenge I am ready for.

Would you add anything to this list?

I don’t believe in self-organized teams…

Image by Martin LaBar (going on hiatus)

Imagine my surprise when a candidate for an agile organizational coach role within our organization shared with me his perspective on this topic.

“Can you share with me your reasoning?”, I asked him intrigued.

The candidate went on to explain that people need direction and that people cannot self-organized without clear objectives and direction.

Indeed, I thought to myself. Who said people and teams shouldn’t be given clear objectives. On the contrary, in my opinion, clear goals are necessary for teams to organize otherwise you end up with a bunch of people who will try to find a reason, a purpose why they are all together – and their self-created goal may very well be different from what you had in mind in the first place.

Where I have a problem is that people associate self-organized teams with “abandoned teams” meaning you simply let the team figure it out – whatever “it” is.

In order to reach the level of autonomy they need to demonstrate extra-ordinary performance, teams need to reach the right level of maturity. Consequently, the manager’s leadership style is critical to achieve that objective. Within Pyxis, we often rely on the combination of the situational leadership and the group development stages to determine the proper level of involvement from the manager.

(Tuckman’s stages of group development, Situational leadership theory)

One of the way to achieve the right level of maturity is for agile managers to determine WHAT must be accomplished and let the team determine HOW it will be done – I already shared my opinion on this topic. Granted, things are more complex that I make them sound in this post but self-organization is indeed possible when the right environment is created for the team – including clear objectives – and it is then given the latitude to operate and determine how best to achieve the given goal.

If only managers would be willing to let go some of their (need to) control and trust the teams, a higher level of performance can be attained.

As you may have guessed, the candidate wasn’t called back for a second interview…

Agile in a Command-and-Control Organization : What to do when upper management forces overtime?

Image by MyLifeStoryMy colleague François Perron launched a very interesting discussion on our private wiki – “As a coach, what to do when executives and upper management force the project team to do over time in order to meet deadlines?”.

As you can probably guess, this initiated very interesting discussions and an obvious reaction to such an approach.

Everyone agreed that due to the project visibility and the position of the organization within its market, the project launch date was critical. Everyone also understood that the organization had very few options so nobody debated the need to achieve results. The discussion was strictly around which measures to use in an Agile context.

I’ll admit up front that I am biased toward intrinsic motivation (I really loved Drive by Dan Pink) and the fact that it is well suited for an agile environment.

As such, my first impression to the conversation that was going on were:

  • Does the organization wish that employees spend more hours at the office (attendance) or would they prefer more engagement (commitment)?
  • If their choice is to increase the hours of attendance, imposing overtime will achieve this goal while giving them a false sense of increased performance. People will show they are working longer hours but the real throughput is unlikely to be much higher. In addition, software development is a brain intensive activity and reducing the amount of rest people get is likely to increase the number of mistakes they make.
  • On the contrary, if the organization wanted more involvement, the inclusion of team members in determining the best way to achieve the results would probably come to a better decision – even possibly leading the willingness to do over time

It appears to me that by forcing overtime, the executives and senior managers will probably collect their bonus and congratulate each others in the short term only to realize in the longer term that they have simply pushed the problem forward for others to deal with – and possibly request more over time in the long run.

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